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Insights into Editorial: It’s time to build BRICS better

 

Context:

The 13th BRICS summit is set to be held on September 9 in digital format under India’s chairmanship.

This plurilateral grouping comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is chaired by turn. India held the chair in 2012 and 2016 too.

BRICS is emerging as a new and promising political-diplomatic entity with diverse objectives, far beyond the original objective of reforming global financial institutions.

The preparatory meeting of Foreign Ministers in June and dialogue at the BRICS Academic Forum in early August offered an important opportunity to present an objective assessment of the grouping’s record amid differing views of believers and sceptics.

 

About BRICS and its importance:

  1. BRICS is an acronym for the grouping of the world’s leading emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  2. The acronym “BRICS” was initially formulated in 2001 by economist Jim O’Neill, of Goldman Sachs, in a report on growth prospects for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China – which together represented a significant share of the world’s production and population.
  3. The importance of BRICS is self-evident: it represents 42% of the world’s population, 30% of the land area, 24% of global GDP and 16% of international trade.
  4. The BRICS seeks to deepen, broaden and intensify cooperation within the grouping and among the individual countries for more sustainable, equitable and mutually beneficial development.
  5. BRICS takes into consideration each member’s growth, development and poverty objectives to ensure relations are built on the respective country’s economic strengths and to avoid competition where possible.
  6. External Affairs Minister noting that BRICS was 15 years old, recently portrayed it as a young adult, equipped with “thoughts shaped and a worldview concretised, and with a growing sense of responsibilities.”

 

Achievements: Establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) and Contingency Reserve Arrangement:

  1. During the sixth BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil (2014), the leaders signed the Agreement for establishing the New Development Bank (NDB).
  2. NDB has successfully worked as one of the most promising multilateral development institutions. Since its inception in 2015, it has approved 42 investment projects worth over $11 billion.
  3. Fortaleza Declaration stressed that the NDB will strengthen cooperation among BRICS and will supplement the efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global development thus contributing to sustainable and balanced growth.
  4. BRICS nations signed BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) in 2014 as part of Fortaleza Declaration at Sixth BRICS summit.
  5. Contingency Reserve Arrangement, aimed at ensuring liquidity for member-states when they are confronted by short term balance of payment crises.
  6. The capital of $100 billion committed under CRA, can act as the guarantor of BRICS financial stability in case of crisis.
  7. The growing contribution of the BRICS to the world economy and the rising importance of the economic relations between the BRICS and other Emerging Market and Developing Countries (EMDCs) create an opportunity for new initiatives that would better help to support sustainable and inclusive growth and development.

 

Three pillars of intra-BRICS cooperation in 2021:

India will work on specific deliverables across all three pillars of intra-BRICS cooperation in 2021.

Political and Security: To enhance cooperation and dialogue on issues of global and regional security, developments in the global political space for peace, security and prosperity.

Economic and Financial: To promote economic growth and development for mutual prosperity through the expansion of intra-BRICS cooperation in sectors such as trade, agriculture, infrastructure, small and medium enterprises, energy and finance & banking.

Recognizing the advantages of using technological and digital solutions for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals in BRICS countries with a special focus on:

  1. Implementation of the BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy 2020-25.
  2. Operationalization of the BRICS Agriculture Research Platform.
  3. Cooperation on Disaster Resilience.
  4. Innovation Cooperation.
  5. Digital Health and Traditional Medicine.

Cultural and People to People:  To qualitatively enrich and enhance intra-BRICS people to people contacts in cultural, academic, youth, sports, business, through regular exchanges.

Exchanges among Parliamentarians, young scientists etc. are also held.

 

What are its immediate goals now?

As the current chair, India has outlined four priorities.

The first is to pursue reform of multilateral institutions:

  1. Reforms of multilateral institutions ranging from the United Nations, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the World Trade Organization and now even the World Health Organization.
  2. This is not a new goal. BRICS has had very little success so far, although strengthening multilateralism serves as a strong bond as well as a beacon.
  3. Reform needs global consensus which is hardly feasible in the current climate of strategic contestation between the U.S. and China and the devastation caused by COVID-19 to health, lives and livelihoods.
  4. Indian officials rightly remind us that BRICS emerged from the desire to challenge dominance (by the U.S.) in the early years of the century, and it remains committed to the goal of counter-dominance (by China) now.
  5. Indian Foreign Ministry observed that the “counter-dominance instinct and principled commitment to multipolarity in all forms” is “written into the DNA of BRICS.”

The second is the resolve to combat terrorism.

  1. Terrorism is an international phenomenon affecting Europe, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.
  2. Tragic developments concerning Afghanistan have helped to focus attention sharply on this overarching theme, stressing the need to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action.
  3. China, for example, feels little hesitation in supporting clear-cut denunciations of terrorist groups, even as its backing of Pakistan, which is heavily enmeshed with a host of international terrorist groups, remains steadfast.
  4. In this context, BRICS is attempting to pragmatically shape its counter-terrorism strategy by crafting the BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan containing specific measures to fight radicalisation, terrorist financing and misuse of the Internet by terrorist groups.
  5. BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan is expected to be a key deliverable at the forthcoming summit and may hopefully bring some change.

Other priorities like Promoting technological and digital solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals and expanding people-to-people cooperation are the other two BRICS priorities.

  1. Digital tools have helped a world adversely hit by the pandemic, and India has been in the forefront of using new technological tools to improve governance.
  2. But enhancing people-to-people cooperation will have to wait for international travel to revive. Interactions through digital means are a poor substitute.
  3. Among other concerns, BRICS has been busy deepening trade and investment ties among its member states.

 

Conclusion:

The idea of BRICS, a common pursuit of shared interests by the five emerging economies from four continents is fundamentally sound and relevant.

The governments have invested huge political capital in pushing the BRICS experiment forward, and its institutionalisation has created its own momentum.

The difficulty stems from China’s centrality and dominance of intra-BRICS trade flows.

How to create a better internal balance remains a challenge, reinforced by the urgent need for diversification and strengthening of regional value chains, all exposed during the pandemic.

Policymakers have been encouraging an increase in intra-BRICS cooperation in diverse areas like agriculture, disaster resilience, digital health, traditional medicine and customs cooperation.

BRICS negotiators need to master the art of brevity and tight drafting. It is necessary for leaders, officials and academics of this grouping to undertake serious soul-searching and find a way out of the present predicament.